After 2000 Years, Nothing Has Changed

In an open letter, Cardinals Burke and Brandmüller say the Church has wrongly blamed the abuse of power by clergy as the main cause of the scandals. Catholic cardinals urge end of ‘homosexual agenda’ – BBC News

The Catholic church is in the center of a scandal of their own making. They continue to hide behind stories, fables, and parables meant to explain what at the time was unexplainable. Written at a time before sanitation, the understanding of germs, and bacteria, and before humans understood genetics, and even how the body functioned. A set of documents, curated to answer the requirements of a government looking to further repress its own people, by a ruler who could have cared less about what was and was not included in the Good Book. Yes, some two thousand years later, they are still bound by these outdated ideas, outmoded ways of thinking, and frankly, perversions of philosophical ideas that were never meant to explain how things worked. And now a group of old, white men are saying that it is not an abuse of power but a pushing of an agenda that is leading the Church astray?

Please, it is time the Catholic Church took a good, long look in the mirror and joined the rest of the world in the current century. Their repression of the world at large has come to an end. It is time they recognized this.

A Legitimate Reason?

OPM: Unpaid essential personnel must show up or risk AWOL status | WTOP

If an employee has a legitimate reason for the absence, the agency could place the person on furlough, but AWOL employees can face appropriate consequences based on the discretion of the agency.

Gee, what could a federal employee use as a legitimate reason for not reporting to work, when they are being ordered to report and not actually getting paid for coming to work. Hm, let me think, let me think. Oh, I know! How about Amendment 13, Section 1 of the United States Constitution?

1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

I guess being essential, working without pay, for the United States Government, in the event of a shutdown is…punishment for a crime?

Failing that, not being able to pay for gas, or transit is also something I would accept. After all, many TSA worksites are not exactly conveniently located to public transit.

And The Stupidity Keeps Coming.

Trump says solution to shutdown impasse ‘so simple’ | WTOP

“I’m not looking to call a national emergency,” Trump said Monday. “This is so simple we shouldn’t have to.”

The President is correct. The solution is quite simple. The Senate needs to vote on the bills already passed by the house. That means the Majority Leader needs to man up and bring them to the floor. Let them stand or fall on their own merit and let the President sign or veto them as he wishes. This will show the country who is really causing 800,000 Federal workers to miss paycheques, put their credit history at risk, and, according to the Bureau of Revenue of Maryland:

The state’s Bureau of Revenue Estimates said Monday in a report that each biweekly payroll those residents are not paid results in about $778 million in lost wages. That results in roughly $57.5 million less in combined state and local income tax withholding and $2.1 million less in sales tax collections. WTOP

And that is just one state’s lost taxes.

Yes, Mr. President, the solution is so simple.

Pot, Meet Kettle

GOP Rep. King loses committee posts over racial remarks | WTOP

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell denounced King earlier Monday, saying, “There is no place in the Republican Party, the Congress or the country for an ideology of racial supremacy of any kind.”

Let us recall statements by the sitting GOP President following the riots in Charlottesville, Virginia in August of 2017:

Mr. Trump defended those gathered in a Charlottesville park to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. “I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups,” he said. “Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch.” NY Times

Now, you can argue that 45 is not supporting racial supremacy, but I can argue even more that he sure is not, by his actions so far, saying there is no place for this sort of ideology. So Mitch, when you are digging a whole, the best way to save yourself is to stop digging.

Can We Do Te Same For Pastrami and Bacon?

Industry wary of alternatives tries to protect a word: meat | WTOP

Nebraska lawmakers will consider a bill this year defining meat as “any edible portion of any livestock or poultry, carcass, or part thereof” and excluding “lab-grown or insect or plant-based food products.” It would make it a crime to advertise or sell something “as meat that is not derived from poultry or livestock.”

As more and more marketing people try to get the general public to fall for their new and improved usually faux healthy product, like nut water, or margarine, instead of milk, or butter, the blurring of the lines between what we know it is and what the marketing doublespeak wants us to believe it is will only get broader.

Even foods that should be clearly delineated, like bacon, seem to now come with qualifiers, and the qualifiers are rather odd. I have yet to encounter the full shift I have seen with coffee (you now have to explicitly say you want your coffee hot), but I do not think we are far away. When I order pastrami, being asked to define whether I want beef or turkey probably makes several in the smoked meat business cringe. Bacon now comes as pork (the so far default), turkey, or tofu (when you are eating something called tofu, bacon is the last thing that comes to mind).

Many people have decided to cut meat out of their diet. That is just fine. However, please, do not confuse your need to follow rabid diet models with the public’s need to be able to identify their food. Meat only comes from animals, milk from cows or goats, and keep your ground up nuts out of my water. I need them for my Chex Mix.

Welcome to 1984, er, 2019…NewSpeak Is Alive And Well

Trump told lawmakers he prefers word ‘strike’ to government shutdown, sources say | WTOP

President Donald Trump told congressional leaders during a meeting Friday to try to negotiate terms to re-open the government and that he preferred the word “strike” in describing the ongoing government shutdown, a person familiar with the meeting and a Democratic aide told CNN.

George Orwell wrote, in the opening line of his essay Politics and the English Language:

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it.

This was before he wrote his novel 1984 in 1948. One of the hallmarks of 1984 is the discussion of Newspeak. I am sure Orwell would be delighted to see how the current President of the United States has not only adopted his vision but implemented in such as way as to make it a vital part of the political discussion!

The current government shutdown is not a strike. It is not a refusal to work organized by a body of employees as a form of protest, typically in an attempt to gain a concession or concessions from their employer. It is the temper tantrum of an adult who is not getting his way. Period. Also, worse, it is a temper tantrum that has now expanded to include a group of mostly white men who are upset that they are not going to get their way, so they are taking their toys and going home, putting thousands of Americans at risk, economically and socially. This is not about security. It has never been about security, despite what the current holder of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue would have you believe from his tweets. This is about the unbridled lust for power and what happens when someone says No.

For 45 to call this a strike is another example of how he is twisting the narrative to shield his actions from those that are not paying attention. At this point, do not be surprised to find him saying we have always been at war with Oceana. But good luck trying to understand just who that is.

What a Government Shutdown Really Means

Spoiler: It does not mean politicians feel any pain.

If you have not met a Federal employee or contractor, or live more than a short drive from the Beltway (what we call the I-495/95 asphalt loop that circles DC), it is understandable that you have a rose coloured glasses opinion about what a government shutdown (even a partial shutdown) means. So, to help you understand the impacts on ordinary people, let me explain it to you.

This current shutdown is a partial shutdown. What does that mean? In this case, it means that only a small number of agencies are affected — specifically, the Department of Homeland (In)security, Justice, EPA, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, HUD, and a handful of others. Agencies, including the Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Health and Human Services, to name a few are not impacted because their budget was approved after the earlier shutdown this year (yes, that’s right, this is the second shutdown in 2018, now rolling into 2019). I will not discuss the political hand-waving being done, but that does not mean this had to happen. Instead, let us look at the impact.

Personnel

It is estimated that this shutdown will impact some 800,000 people. That is 800,000 full-time Federal employees, and contractors. Let’s put this in perspective, shall we?

In November, General Motors announced it was laying off 14,000 employees. Wells Fargo quietly laid off 26,000, and Verizon is dumping some 10,000 employees. The layoffs in the Auto Industry caused a great hue and cry, but the other layoffs barely caused a ripple, in the press. Everyone agrees, however, that those numbers are significant numbers to be laid off in an economy that is growing. That is less than 10% of the total workforce that has been idled by the Federal Government. The official term is furloughed, and it is important to remember that the Federal Workforce has not been laid off (the same cannot be said for the contractors).

So why the difference in wording. Because being a Federal Employee comes with many benefits, and those benefits, come with a couple of significant catches. As a Federal Employee, you get at least nine days off a year (you know, all those Federal Holidays that none of the rest of us generally get). They get discounts at hotels, transit benefits, and a generally stable pay structure. In exchange, they cannot do certain things that the average employee can (look up Hatch Act for example), but it also means they cannot legally hold a second job. Which means, that if they are furloughed they cannot apply for unemployment insurance (since they are still technically employed), they cannot go and get a part-time job to carry them over until they are paid again, and best of all, if they are deemed essential they have to continue to work without the benefits of pay.

Federal employees will, eventually, get their pay. The bill has already been passed to pay them once the budgets are allocated, but until the money is available, they cannot be paid, even if they are required to stay at their posts. So be kind to that TSA employee. He may not be making much money, but at the moment, he is working and not being paid.

I mentioned that contractors are a particular case. Most contractors, assigned to work for agencies that are shut down, are not being paid, because their companies are not being paid. Moreover, since they are not working, they cannot receive pay for that time. They are, in all reality, laid off. Some of the larger contractors will carry these employees over. Either by forcing them to take paid time off, or send them off to training, but even that will not be a long-term fix. If their agency is not funded in a short period of time, usually two weeks in my experience, they will be out of work. Let me repeat this. Federal contractors, who work for agencies that are close, will be out of work if this is not resolved quickly. How many people are we talking about? As many as 10% in some agencies, considerably higher in other agencies. So those layoffs at GM and Wells Fargo are comparable to the layoffs that are happening in the Federal sector over the Christmas break.

Economics

The Government is closed. Look at all the money the Fed is saving. Again, this is not entirely accurate. The people that are full-time employees are, in fact, going to be paid. So there are no payroll cost savings.

Further, the lights, heat, and phones are still being utilized, even at a minimum extent (although if you notice, many of the Federal websites are still online) so those bills will have to be paid to the local utilities, eventually. But so do the mortgage, utilities, and other bills for the 800,000 employees who are not receiving a paycheque. These 800,000 people still have to feed their families, put gas in their cars, put clothes on their bodies — all without a paycheque. The gas company continues to send gas to their houses on the assumption the bill will be paid. Remember that many of these employees are not being paid a great deal of money. You can look up exactly how much they are being paid online. Also, like most Americans, living paycheque to paycheque is the norm. So missing even one paycheque is economically risky.

However, there are other impacts, some of which are invisible. Some of which are quite visible.

Because an agency is shuttered, it means that no one is eating Enzo’s Lunch Special at the local deli. Most of these restaurants barely survive with the local trade. Take it away for a day, a week, a month, and suddenly Enzo’s deli is no longer there. Car repairs are put on hold. Home upgrades. Tuition. The impacts are a real example of how trickledown economics really works. One domino falls, and it might not cause a cascade. Several falling and the cascade may be unstoppable. Eight hundred thousand people represent a lot of falling dominos and a lot of small to medium businesses being impacted.

So if you think that is not that big a deal, then think about this. The Federal Government is not paying its bills. At least those agencies that are closed are not paying their bills. The largest business in the United States is not paying its bills. However, companies have started doing work on the assumption that they will be paid. Uniforms are being made; servers are boxed, boots are ordered. Dell might be able to absorb a week or two shutdown and not have it negatively affect their bottom line, or their stock price, but other companies have already announced or will be announcing the hit in the fourth quarter or the first quarter of 2019. If this shutdown goes more than two weeks, expect those impacts to begin to show on the markets. If they have not shown up already in the significant downturn just after the shutdown was announced.

Access

A commenter on a site posted: I just went to my local National Park. The gates were up. You don’t need park rangers to allow you access to our national resource.

All well and good. The National Park Service, part of Interior, is unfunded and many of the Rangers are not patrolling the parks. Some parks are open, unattended; others are closed. However, Rangers and other park workers are not there to just collect the entrance fee (which is trivial). They are there to keep bad things from happening to the natural resource: no Rangers, no fire watch. No fire watch, well, we could lose acres to wildfires. No Rangers, no one stopping poachers, or others doing bad things on Federal land. No Rangers, or even park workers, no one to clean up the trails when the trees fall or rebuild bridges, or come and get you if you get into trouble. Think about that before you go out.

In DC, more visible than anywhere else, many tourists have discovered what the shutdown means in person. The Smithsonian museums are closed. Many tried to stay open until at least New Years, but come January 1, they all closed. Moreover, this is impacting many people and their plans.

As I mentioned, most of the government websites are still operational, although many have banners saying they are unattended. Got a question about your Known Traveller status? It’s going to have to wait. How about that citizenship application? Sorry, not today. Import license that is critical for making that end of month deadline? Hope you have alternate plans. Anything that is not automated is not being processed. So even if it is automated, if there is a piece of paper required, it will not be sent out.

A Shutdown is Expensive

If I have not convinced you that a shutdown is impactful, and more than just a political stunt, let me share some additional numbers.

The 2013 shutdown estimated a one-week shutdown would likely decrease fourth quarter annualized growth by 0.1-0.2 percentage points. Politico posits that the cost of the current shutdown could cost millions of dollars a day.

Quantifying the exact cost to the government is difficult, in part because every shutdown is different. Between November 1995 and January 1996, the government shut down twice for a total of 27 days as Democrats and Republicans clashed over Medicare funding, among other issues. A subsequent analysis conducted by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget estimated that both shutdowns together cost the government $1.4 billion—more than $2 billion today after adjusting for inflation.

That is not an insignificant cost. So that money is in addition to the funds that must be allocated to keep things open and running.

So if like many, you are shrugging your shoulders over the shutdown, I hope I have convinced you that, despite your political leanings, a shutdown is just brinksmanship. It has no positive outcome. Moreover, for many, the hand they have been dealt is not a winner.

New DSM-5 Entry for 2019

Donald Trump rejects Democratic funding plan, wishes Happy New Year to ‘haters’

2019 WILL BE A FANTASTIC YEAR FOR THOSE NOT SUFFERING FROM TRUMP DERANGEMENT SYNDROME

The only person currently suffering from this is the man in the White House. The rest of us are trying, mightily, to stay the course, not knowing what #TDS will bring us in 2019.

Good-Bye 2018

As we are less than 24 hours away from 2019, at least here on the East Coast where I live.

Rather than recount the success and failures of the past year, mainly because there were more failures than successes, I am going to put the year firmly behind me and move forward into 2019.

Can things be worse? Sure. It can always get worse. According to several folks, 2018 suffered some $155 billion in losses due to natural disasters. And there were a lot of those, and there can be more. But that is last year. For 2019, we are looking forward.